Innovation for Impact and Lifelong Learning – Accelerating Baulkham Hills North Public School’s Digital Transformation

In todays’ rapidly transforming world, how can schools and educators prepare students for the jobs, challenges, and opportunities of the future?

It’s a question asked by educators throughout the world, and taken to heart by Baulkham Hills North Public School (BHNPS) as they embarked on a partnership with Microsoft Australia and HP.

The New South Wales school seized opportunities to integrate technology in meaningful and impactful ways across the school by investing in an onsite Innovation Centre, partnering with Microsoft for regular professional development and support for staff, and deploying Education Devices designed for hybrid learning provided by HP.

BHNPS accelerated their digital transformation, integrating technology into learning for a richer learning experience by participating in the Microsoft incubator program, which guided school through the Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework to become a Showcase School.

A future-fit foundation

Commentary on the future of work forecasts many students currently in primary school will enter careers which haven’t yet been created. Educators are challenged to instill skills helping students meet and embrace new and emerging opportunities.

While exact future landscapes are yet unknown, BHNPS Principal Graham Holmes believes the answer lies with empowering students to take agency of their learning, sparking curiosity, and instilling a love of lifelong learning – with technology providing the foundation for these values to thrive.

A community-centric school, Graham started scoping BHNPS’ strategy by posing them a question: if the school was invented tomorrow, what would it be like? This future-focus underpinned BHNPS’s approach to teaching, which included the technology used for teaching, while keeping students, teachers, and community ever at its heart.

“From our questioning, we developed a strong vision of what schools should look like to prepare our kids for their futures,” said Graham.

“We became clear about our responsibilities and obligations to prepare our kids for the future world. We looked closely at our curriculum and possibilities to interface with things children will need in a future driven by the tech revolution.”

We focused on how to leverage technology as an enabler of learning and make sure students have outstanding capabilities in technology.

“Technology is the tool helping us drive learning to not only ensure they are successful in high school but produce the next batch of citizens who will be productive, make valuable contributions to the world and be successful in their lives.”

Reimagining the pedagogy

Research in education advocates a shift from traditional, ‘sage on the stage’ methods, toward interactive, student-led approaches. There is important overlap between skills projected to be most important for future employees and those honed by technology-integrated learning, including critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, curiosity, and continuous learning.

Integrating technology into BHNPS classrooms married with the school’s pedagogical shift toward students being owners and regulators of their own learning, with greater accountability, and importantly, a sense of curiosity. When students enter classrooms, they’re interested, motivated, and engaged, with an appetite to learn.

With staff and students consistently and fluently using Microsoft Teams, OneNote and the O365 suite for teaching and learning, sharing resources, and communicating, Graham said students were naturally engaging with applications, collaborating with peers and teachers offsite and in class.

“I met with our team of student leaders last week to talk about plans for semester two and the next stage of their leadership responsibilities. At the end of the meeting, I mentioned circulating the summary, and they reminded me: ‘just put it on Teams, Mr Holmes’,” said Graham.

“That was a real indication of where our kids are up to, it’s now part of what they do, how they learn, and their learning process, and enormous learning benefits are coming from that,” he said.

Consistency across the school helps remove barriers to use and reduces cognitive loads for students and teachers. It’s just the way we do things now.

Graham said BHNPS focused on promoting global competencies, such as citizenship, character, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity, while offering deep learning experiences. While the school had an existing STEM program, he credited the partnership with accelerating opportunities, citing projects challenging students to explore real world problems and develop solutions.

“The students are exploring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Using their devices and technology, they’re immersing themselves into learning and investigating the goals and considering how they could contribute to solving some big world goals. They’re building competencies and technology plays a big part,” said Graham.

Technology gives them the tools to investigate at a deeper level and be innovative and creative about coming up with solutions to help solve problems for society. We’re really excited about looking forward.

Support for staff

With many teachers, students and families already using Microsoft 365, Amanda Frampton, Learning Delivery Specialist at Microsoft said an important shift was ensuring everyone understood the potential of Office 365 to enhance and accelerate teaching and learning. Teachers involved in the program were offered two hours of professional development time each week, receiving training and support from Microsoft Global Training Partner, Using Technology Better (UTB).

“The school developed a systematic approach to curriculum delivery. Teams is that one-stop-shop allowing teachers to set up class teams, use it as a space for student collaboration and submissions, and provide curriculum resources,” said Amanda.

“BHNPS were committed to the transformation, from the top leadership down. Investing in teacher’s professional development helped build teacher’s digital skills and embed the tech throughout the school,” she said.

Making sure teachers feel comfortable and ready with their digital skills was a big reason why the change management was so successful.

UTB Director Mike Reading agreed, saying the “little and often” professional learning approach was key to embedding teacher’s digital skills and driving cultural change.

“When you do a little bit often, it seems to stick better – you can go away and practice, try out a collaboration, and come back and ask questions,” he said.

Training and professional development were designed around practical exercises, hands-on interaction with tools, and demonstrations on technology allowing new ways of teaching. From creating lasting content for absent students, to systemizing, streamlining, and automating tasks to reduce teacher workload, and developing multimedia-rich lessons for more engaging learning experiences, Mike said participating teachers were excited by possibilities from access to new and greater technologies.

“One example showed teachers a system where students record presentations, and artificial intelligence gives immediate feedback on how they went in terms of pitch, pace, and inclusive language. Students then take a screen capture of results and send it back to the teacher,” said Mike.

Lead Innovation Hub Teacher at BHNPS Louise Mashiah agreed, saying professional development empowering staff was the key to success.

Once you have all the staff involved, it means greater opportunities for students to use technology in meaningful ways.

Hardware to support the hard work

Bolstering the software and support provided by Microsoft Australia and UTB, HP contributed to the partnership by providing 42 Education Devices designed for hybrid learning. Thirty were allocated for student use, and 12 for teachers.

These devices supercharge the digital experiences with high resolution cameras, touchscreen capability, stylus pens to draw and sketch and excellent noise-cancelling audio features – essential in busy workplaces and classrooms.

Brett Salakas, HP Education Ambassador and former school principal himself, said BHNPS had the right vision and mentality for change and improvement around digital transformation.

BHNPS already had the strategy in place; they wanted to embrace education technology and be more innovative. The partnership helped them achieve in one year what they were hoping to do in three or four.

“We also worked closely with the school community to include them in the process and have discussions around how not all screen time is equal – jumping on Instagram is different to learning how to code, or make presentations for school,” he said.

“Our role helped support the digital delivery of the strategic transformation the school was going through. Teaching and learning always remain first; ICT is the enabler.”

Louise agreed, saying the HP laptops and applications gave students access to opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise and created meaningful learning experiences.

“Previously it would take a long time for us to boot up the devices, now we can get into learning straight away. We’re not only using Teams, OneNote and Word in a basic sense; we’re expanding their use into further expeditions and inquiries that further merge applications together to create powerful presentations,” said Louise.

“The MakeCode application allows students to make code for things relevant to their lives. We’ve had students measure moisture sensors to give recommendations to the Principal about which gardens need more care, and we have fans set to turn on using MakeCode when the temp in the classroom gets to a set level. They’re small projects, but their thinking is going beyond what they’re learning at school and moving toward how they can make people’s lives better,” she said.

Sustainable inspiration

BHNPS has a legacy of inspiring STEM talent, counting Dr Jordan Nguyen as alumnus and patron of the school’s Innovation Centre.

One of Australia’s most innovative engineers, Dr Nguyen designs life-changing technologies transforming the lives of people with disabilities and the elderly through his role as founder of Psykinetic, a social business committed to bringing positive, sustainable, and life-altering change.

He visited BHNPS to talk to students about innovation and the power of technology to better the world, and Graham believes Dr Jordan’s role modelling, coupled with his message on opportunities to make a difference and the integration of technology and learning at the school impart powerful positive influences on students.

“Some of our kids will go on to achieve remarkable things, and I believe it’s partly by us laying the foundation through programs like our innovation and technology focus,” said Graham.

“Together, this helps them believe they can achieve whatever they want; they just have to put their minds to it, have a go and believe in themselves,” he said.

These children have the raw material; we just provide the way to do it. Had this partnership not occurred, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Louise agreed the program laid important foundations for continuous learning and future success, saying the school had advanced teaching and learning to prepare students for an ever-evolving future undoubtedly revolving around technology.

“We want our children to thrive in the future. We don’t know what that future will be, so we want to prepare our students to be lifelong learners excited about learning every day, and this program is how we get them excited. Our job is to prepare them for their future, while we don’t know what it is, technology is the answer,” she said.

To find out more on how to HP and Microsoft can help your school’s digital transformation, please contact the Microsoft Australia Education team.